Saturday, September 13, 2008


Even though I've been to the Chocolate Museum, I'm no expert. When I was a naïf back in the U.S., I was aware fundamentally aware that there was milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate. But the days when a cup of coffee was just a cup of coffee are long gone and the days when a chocolate bar is just a chocolate bar seem on their way out too. Single origin chocolate bars are common in the grocery store and I'm sure it'll be not too long until single estate chocolate bars show up too.

Here in Germany, chocolate bars often advertise their percentage of chocolate content (I'm pretty fuzzy on what this means: total chocolate (liquor), cocoa solids, or cocoa butter?). What is clear is that the larger the chocolate percentage, the darker the chocolate and the less sugar added. According to Wikipedia, in the U.S., "sweet" chocolate "requires a 15% concentration of chocolate liquor. European rules [for dark chocolate] specify a minimum of 35% cocoa solids."

My baseline dark chocolate in the U.S. is good old Hershey's Special Dark. I don't know what percentage chocolate it is (it doesn't seem to be found easily online). A typical dark chocolate I'd buy at the store here is between 60-75% chocolate and is significantly chocolaty-er and less salty. Last year I bought 85%. It's a fairly intense experience. Not sweet, but very rich and if I just let a piece sit on my tongue, it might take 30 minutes to melt. Recently, though, I noticed that Lindt sells 99% chocolate bars. I couldn't resist.

I put a piece in my mouth and it doesn't melt at all. It doesn't even get soft. It just sits, slowly coming apart in my mouth and coating the inside until I wipe it off with my tongue and swallow it. It's not like eating any food product (what sort of food doesn't melt but you can't really chew either? is that what eating dirt is like?). The mouth feel of putting a whole piece in distracts me from noticing its flavor. I bite off a tiny bit, and now I can taste how incredibly bitter and intense it is. Very caffeiney too without being the least bit sweet (and gritty at parts -- pure bean?!). But it's like scrubbing your mouth out. Once it's gone, it's gone. No aftertaste at all. My mouth actually has no taste in it right now. Very cleansing. As suggested by the Lindt webpage (which I also offer as proof that I'm not accidentally eating baker's chocolate), I think it might be good with coffee. Maybe sweet coffee. My verdict: definitely worth at least trying.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Not the Typical Thursday

I went to my boss's wedding today in lieu of work. And it was lovely (they had fantastic luck with the weather -- nicest day of the week). But I found it amusing how the German attendees were completely unable to answer any question I had about what should happen at a typical German wedding: what should I wear? what sort of gift might be appropriate? what do people usually do?

Maybe their absolute cluelessness has to do with a lack of experience with weddings (although I can think of a few other equally likely hypotheses). According to Wikipedia, the average age at first marriage for men in the U.S. is 27.5 and for women is 25.9, while in Germany those numbers are 32.6 and 29.6 (2006). By the way, I assumed that the numbers for Canada would be similar to those of the U.S., but they are 34.3 for men and 31.7 for women. Wow. (There's got to be an "appropriate" Canada joke to put here. Go ahead and fill in the blank in the comments.)

I asked my officemate (a couple years younger than me) if it was the first wedding he had attended. He said it was. I said that the dress I was wearing had been to at least two weddings (and, hey, I've now been to weddings on three different continents!).


Monday, September 08, 2008


My old grad school officemate, Eugene, stopped by for a visit, so we went to Berlin for the weekend.

We stayed right in the center of the things on Unter den Linden and walked to everything. The first day we visited the Jüdisches Museum, which was certainly worth the visit but more interesting architecturally than in the content of the museum -- tracing the history of Judaism in Germany.

Getting to the Jüdisches Museum meant walking right through what used to be Checkpoint Charlie from East Berlin to West Berlin. Very little of the original Berlin Wall is still standing. Here the sign and the checkpoint are recreations.

The original sign is in the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie museum, but admission was an outrageous 12.50 euros (it was 5 for the Jüdisches Museum) and we figured we could skip it.

Touristy Communist stuff is everywhere here.

If you follow path of the wall to the west, you do run into a little stretch of the original stuff. Here there's an outdoor exhibit ("The Topology of Terror") on the ruins of the old headquarters for the Secret State Police. A piece of the Berlin Wall is right above it.

Further to the west, turning north at Postdamer Platz and just south of Brandenburg Gate, we saw the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (the Holocaust Memorial). I had read descriptions of it, but it definitely surpassed my expectations. A field of concrete slabs erected in a precise grid. The slabs vary in height, growing unevenly to the center of the grid as the ground between them simultaneously slopes downward. At the edges, then, the slabs are short enough to sit on -- which I and many other tourists did despite their uncomfortable resemblance to coffins. From there, the memorial looks rather like playing field in the old arcade game Q*bert. Several children and ... sigh ... adults treated it as such, leaping from concrete block to concrete block. It also, however, resembles the old Jewish cemetary in Prague, tombstones piled on tombstones.

Walking through the exhibit, the slabs quickly rise over your head and you find yourself in a quiet and dim concrete forest.

Brandenburg Gate. It's big and near a bunch of foreign embassies and the Reichstag. It's on the east end of the Tiergarten and is the west end of Unter den Linden.

That was day 1.

We devoted the next day to musuems. Heading east from Brandenburg Gate on Unter den Linden, you would pass a few embassies, a lot of expensive stores, our hotel, the old National Library, Humbolt University, a giant statue of Frederick the Great, Neue Wache, Bebelplatz (where the Nazis held a book burning ceremony), and the Berliner Dom, as well as a few others I'm forgetting.

We went to the Pergamon Museum, which has a lot of cool Babylonian stuff (e.g., the Ishtar Gate) and to the Altes Musuem which has some cool Egyptian stuff (e.g., this bust of Nefertiti).

By the way, the hotel, Brandenburg Gate, and all the museums were in East Berlin, where the old Communist authorities came up with these very cute icons for the walk signs. He's called Ampelmännchen (little traffic light man) and is enough of a cultural icon to have souvenirs with his likeness and to resist standardization after reunification (really, just read the wiki page).

For dinner we wandered up Oranienburger Straße where there's a ton of restaurants (one with a fantastic and fantastically cheap Sunday brunch) and the Neue Synagogue. Although the original was mostly saved from Kristallnacht, it was mostly destroyed by Allied bombing during the WWII. Aside from some foreign embassies, it was the only building we saw that had police guarding it.

Our last day, we wandered through Tiergarten. It includes the Soviet War Memorial which is very Soviet looking

and Siegessäule (Victory Column).

By the way, we stayed at the Westin Grand Berlin. It's a four or maybe five star hotel, but Eugene had hotel points so it seemed like a good deal. We could afford the hotel but not anything else: our room had a view of the Bugatti showroom across the street and coffee at the hotel bar cost 5 to 8 euros. But they had complimentary 85% chocolate pieces (from Ghana).